Simon Rocker

Are Jews an ethnic minority? The BBC doesn't think so

A BBC report said there was no one from an ethnic background among the top-earning broadcasters. But was it right?

July 20, 2017 14:01

When the BBC reported on its list of highest-paid broadcasters on its News at Ten last night,  it said there was no one from an ethnic background in the top 20.

Which was wrong (well, wrong depending on your definition of ethnic minority). For the top 20 included two Jewish women – Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz.

In its defence, the BBC might point to the Institute of Race Relations, which  defines BAME  - Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic  - as the “the terminology normally used in the UK to describe people of non-white descent”.

Alternatively, Jews are often considered a religious, as distinct from an ethnic, minority.

In the last Census, the vast majority of Jews who chose to identify as such did so by answering the (voluntary) question on religion; only a few thousand identified themselves as Jews by ethnicity (although “Jewish” was not a category specifically listed under ethnic – respondents had to go to the trouble of adding that information under “other”).

Legally, however, Jews are clearly an ethnic, as well as religious minority, since they are protected under the Race Relations Act (as are Sikhs).

It is also the premise of Zionism, as well as traditional Judaism, that Jews are part of Am Yisrael, the People of Israel – and therefore not simply defined by creed.

According to the last communal survey from the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, a growing segment of British Jewry considers itself as “cultural” or “secular”. Think of the number of interviews you have read in this newspaper with people who say they are not religious, but feel culturally Jewish.

Is a cultural minority different from an ethnic minority? Or is the latter primarily a matter of skin colour?

Before the Census actually started collecting statistics on Jews, I remember debates at the Board of Deputies on the wisdom of doing this more than 20 years ago. Some members clearly did not want to be categorised as an “ethnic minority” as though that somehow cast doubt on their integration into Britain. 

As the idea of multiculturalism spread and diversity was celebrated, and as increasing numbers of Jews regarded themselves as secular rather than religious, my impression was that resistance to being considered an “ethnic minority” fell away.

In the 2015 election campaign, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, for instance, both issued “BAME” manifestos which included issues of Jewish interest such as preserving modern Hebrew exams, protection of shechitah or countering antisemitism.

So should we come under a BAME umbrella or not? I guess it depends on the context.

July 20, 2017 14:01

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